Faculty Awarded Three-Year NSF Research Grant to Benefit Underrepresented Students

Old Main in fall.

KUTZTOWN, Pa. – Dr. Georgeos Sirrakos, professor of secondary education, Dr. Lisa Frye, department chair and professor of computer science and information technology, and Joleen Greenwood, professor of sociology, received a three-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to better understand the barriers and challenges for success faced by underrepresented high school students in computer science, namely females, underrepresented racial minorities and/or students of low socioeconomic status. This grant is funded in the amount of $484,199 and required a high level of faculty collaboration working across different colleges and departments.

This project seeks to establish a new pedagogical framework to introduce high school students to computer science and computational thinking that will be taught in conjunction with existing curricula. The new framework will equip computer science teachers with tools to encourage inclusivity and collaboration among students from all backgrounds. In addition, this framework will guide the implementation of computational thinking in classes of the arts, humanities, sciences, social sciences and mathematics. The specific focus for this framework is to recognize and empower students’ diversity, provide opportunities for interdisciplinary implementation of computational thinking and consider teachers’ needs in developing culturally inclusive pedagogies.

This project will assist in addressing the educational practices and pedagogies that contribute to the underrepresentation of females, racial minorities and students of low socioeconomic status in computer science. This research will take place at three high schools (one rural, one suburban and one urban) where students from underrepresented groups will engage with the research team in several activities to better understand the educational practices that prevent them from pursuing, enrolling in, and engaging in computer sciences and professions that relate to the field. The research methodology is designed in a manner to ensure that, from the beginning, every part of the study is informed by student perceptions and voices.

The research team will assess the pedagogical framework’s efficacy by utilizing a mixed-methods approach including the Perceptions and Attitudes toward Computer Science questionnaire (a newly developed and validated measurement). Additionally, a series of focus groups will be employed to gain a better understanding of teachers’ and students’ experiences with the framework.

Data gathered from this project will be used to support, encourage and inspire underrepresented youth by broadening their participation and tenacity in computer science and increasing the likelihood of selecting computer science as a post-secondary course of study, thereby increasing the diversity of and representation within the field.

Sirrakos is the principal investigator for this project. He earned his Ph.D. from the Curtin University of Technology and teaches courses in education research, multicultural education, hip-hop education, education psychology and methods of science instruction. He also supervises student teachers. Frye earned her Ph.D. in Computer Science from Lehigh University. She teaches many courses at KU, including various courses on networking and programming. Greenwood earned her Ph.D. in Sociology from the State University of New York, Albany. She teaches courses related to family sociology, along with foundations of social theory, senior seminar in sociology and principles of sociology.